Sketchaday week 3ish

I know it is little soon for my weekly sketchaday update, but I want to reconfigure my regular posting day to be Fridays. As always I will take any requests for a sketchaday, so feel free to comment or message me!
Here are the few since the last post, Sherlock Holmes, the palace of fine arts in San Fran, a ninja cutting the cheese, and some weird marker girl. Thanks!

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Paintings

First two paintings from my painting II class.

Oil on Canvas

“Pop” was mainly done as a study of color and technique. I captured the reference images with my boyfriend while he popped water balloons and took elements from many of those images to put this painting together.

Acrylic and Oil on woodpanel

 

“Reflection” was a test in the techinique of using acrylic and oils, and I found it very successful. I painted the phone from life, I actually have a shot cellphone. The background is from my imagination. There is a narrative I tried to promote within this painting, however I will let those who view it figure that out. ^.^

 

Thanks!

the student org experience

My first semester at the University of Iowa was Fall 2011. Since I was a transfer student, I had to find a way to integrate into the community somehow, so I joined a student Organization, AIUI, Animation and Interaction at the University of Iowa by the recommendation of my adviser.

At first I didn’t know what to think of the group, everyone seemed so self driven, motivated, and most of all pretty friendly. I was intimidated, however. Everyone seemed to know what they wanted out of life more than I and more focused. It turned out it was a new student org to build a community for people interested in animation and making video games, since it was new this intimidation lessened a little.

I was quiet at the meetings for the most part for quite while. Eventually, about 3/4 of the way through the semester was a game jam for AIUI people mostly. We sat and worked, and worked and worked for a whole weekend straight. During this time I started to find my stride and place within the group. Even though most of my work from that weekend got thrown to the cutting room floor, you can still see some of it in the final assets sheet above.

Sitting and making assets on the computer for a weekend, it doesn’t seem that bad. However, it was one of the most grueling experiences I have had in my life. To keep working and changing and talking and working just to get to the start of making a final product for the programmers to use, it made me realized a few major things.

1. I thought I knew everything about anything, followed by the crushing realization I knew just about nothing.

2. Working on a team project is probably the most frustrating but rewarding thing a person can do.

3. My dreams were going to be a lot more work than I thought.

After that weekend, a lot of things started to change in my life, mostly because I knew how much I had to focus to get the things accomplished I wanted to. Honestly, I went into such a fury of creation and destruction and movement, I can barely remember what happened. The end result was me having pretty awesome grades for fall semester, getting a 6,000 dollar scholarship for the next year, revamping my personal life, getting a kitten, and probably the most important, becoming President of AIUI.

I couldn’t believe it myself when I was elected, on my birthday mind you, but, the group spoke. I still don’t know if I am the right person for the position, but I do know I love the work and love helping my people. I have learned a lot about leading a group, the creative process, and met so many wonderful people, I can’t believe it is happening most the time. Between Bumpf! and our last project kowBoom! not only have I developed, but I have gotten the joy of watching those around me develop.

So here is just a few of the assets I have worked out with the help of all the great folks there over the last year, and hopefully this next year we will continue to excel and push our boundaries.

bumpf! title screen

A gif showing the painting process for the Bumpf! title menu screen.

I am not going to say much about this piece, especially the process to create it, because the gif above outlines that pretty well. I will explain the idea behind this.

Since it is the title screen for Bumpf!, a tower defense game, it had to somehow explain the story behind it. The story for this game is you are toliet paper people defending your sacred golden toliet from the marauding horde of ninjas, pirates, and vikings. Even though the story maybe a little off kilter, I like to think this painting encapsulates this idea.

As to style, I really wanted to keep some structure and realistic value, but also play on the cartoony-ness of the game. I really enjoy painting in this style, and wish to explore it more.

bumpf!, digital painting, photoshop

Creative Works Project: Intro to Sustainability

I am not going to write too much about this piece, because below I will include the essay that was written a long with it.

It was also featured in the Aberrant Literary parade: http://theaberrantparade.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/tap-water-ad-by-andrea-jackson/

Photoshop, Tap Water Ad

Personal Reflection on Art and Intro to Sustainability

Art and sustainability are not by any means mutually exclusive, but when one attempts to define what either means to the other, a blank mind can come about. To outline the Arts relationship with sustainability, one first has to answer the question “What is art?” This, again, is a largely ambiguous question that has been heatedly debated for as long as art has been existent. With the endless possible interpretations, within the context of this essay I will define art as the formulation and manifestation of ideas through visual means. This could pertain to painting, drawing, video, sculpture, photography, design, or any other means by which visual representation of ideas are created.

So with “art” loosely defined, what does it have to do with a sustainable future? The answer is simply everything and anything. Artists are the dreamers, innovators, and visionaries who will bring forth the ideas that will help propel a sustainable movement forward. Creative thinking and solutions is the keystone to keep a sustainable structure together, for without them there is an understanding of a lot of problems, but no viable way to overcome them. This is not to say the artists are the end all, be all of where solutions could come from, but they are a significant population of people who are well equipped to innovate.

Beyond innovation, the representation of sustainable ideas in a visual manner is important for the general public to truly understand them. Visual language is the basic form of communication that we humans have utilized since prehistory, just look to any cave painting. It is much more emotional and connective for someone to see an image of one malnourished child, than hear that 15 million children die a year from starvation. More change and awareness within the general public could be potentially brought about with one photograph, than years of statics and data being compiled, graphed, and presented.

Even with this substantial power of innovation and persuasion, many artists seem to falter when it comes to integrating sustainable concepts into their work. Personally, I found this largely comes from the fact it is such a large concept to wrap one’s mind around. Since it has to do with everything everyone does on a daily basis, if one is truly devoted to such concepts, every day and every moment they must think about their actions. This is a daunting task for just daily mundane chores, but to also synthesize and comprehend these concepts and integrate them into one’s work, this is a process which would need outside influence and assistance generally. That thought is exactly what led me to enroll in Intro to Sustainability.

Even though I pursued sustainable ideas in my personal life, by attempting to garden, practicing informed consumerism, and utilizing alternative forms of transportation, I always felt like I was  moving nowhere fast in building any sort of solid sustainable foundation to live on, let alone incorporate the concepts into my artwork. Everything seemed like so much and no matter where I turned there was another obstacle to overcome. I kept thinking if this is so hard for me to accomplish, someone who feel passionately about such issues, no wonder the general public just doesn’t accept many changes suggested to them.

When enrolling in Introduction to Sustainability at the University of Iowa, I had no idea what to expect. I knew it was an engineering course, and that was intimidating, but I also knew it was designed to be multidisciplinary. For the first couple weeks, I was incredibly confused and overwhelmed with the topics being presented in class, and anxious of all the group work and amount of dialogue expected of us. Being one to generally work alone and have severe stage fright, this was almost a deal breaker – meaning I almost dropped the class. However, a voice in the back of my head told me to persevere, because I felt there was something important to be learned here. I can say now I am glad I did.

Through the course of the semester as we studied systems thinking to informed consumerism and -what I found incredibly boring at the time -sustainable business practices, I saw more and more how everything was connected. However, instead of being overwhelmed like I always have been before when I see these connections, the skills to process this information was infused with the lessons of sustainability. The most valuable thing I have taken from the class was not the concepts of sustainability – which I for the most part already understood – but the ability to wield the knowledge in an effective manner in my personal and professional life.

Since my professional life I am training for is in the arts, the creative works project was the moment for me to really assimilate all the skills collected over the semester in Introduction to Sustainability. The roots of this project started with the idea of fake advertising. There are many organizations that have fake advertising, notably Adbusters, and all do it well in their own right. However, one underlying theme I noticed with fake advertising is it bashes on existing advertising, thus creating an “us vs. them” mentality.  It raises anger and outrage in the viewer towards the existing adverts for large corporations, but it really does not focus the anger. Whenever I view the fake advertising presented by Adbusters I always am left feeling disillusioned and usually apathy will set in as a defense mechanism to keep me from getting completely depressed. This is ironic considering most of their fake adverts were designed to do exactly the opposite, to raise awareness and passion with its audience to change advertising, corporations, and the world.

I thought, instead of stirring anger in the viewer – which is something that I believe there needs to be considerably less of in this world – and putting blame on the advertising and media for the current status of the world, why not just use the same techniques in advertising to promote sustainable ideas. I knew I wanted to do something with tap water from the start, because of the prevalence of bottled water and soft drinks replacing just a plain old glass of water. The environmental effects of all that plastic usage for packaging, manufacturing, and shipping of the product is considerable when compared to just drinking tap water. Tap water is also a fairly modern convenience that everyone, including myself, takes for granted.

As to the overall theme and feel of the piece, I instinctively went to 1950’s era cola ads. I feel in the history of advertising, this is the time when materialism really started to take hold in the American culture. Iconic of this to me was soda ads, because they were literally selling sugared water, something that is absolutely not needed by anyone. The advertisers of this time were unabashed in their approach to advertising, and used any means necessary to ingrain a message into the consumers head. Copying this root of modern advertising, but directing in a message of sustainability seemed like a more productive and positive route to take.

After researching old ads and deciding on the layout, I had to come up with content. An insight a friend of mine shared in a conversation about this topic helped significantly direct this piece, “You don’t change people’s mind with facts, you change it with beauty.” It was so simple, emphasis the beauty. Not only how beautiful, but how sexy drinking plain old water can be. In modern advertising, sexual overtones are used to sell items all the time, and it works. It was the perfect synthesis of old and new advertising ideals.

The creation of the piece took about 25-30 hours of digital painting total in Adobe Photoshop. I will be submitting it to a literary journal, but I have already had a couple requests for prints to be made for people to hang in there apartments or dorms. This has inspired me to create more ads like this, because not only is the painting process enjoyable as always for me, the end product is more positive and has more potential to influence for the greater well-being of all. After viewing the piece, not only do I hope people feel like drinking a nice cool glass of tap water and feel beautiful while doing it, but also maybe think and dialogue about their actions just a little bit. I also hope this is a more welcoming message for the general public; instead of anger or hatred towards an established system, it is a more subtle tongue and cheek way to show how silly everything can be sometimes.

This piece relates to course content because it is promoting a sustainable idea, drinking tap water as an alternative to bottled water or soda. As stated before, the environmental impact bottled water and soda consumption is significant, and curbing of this over consumption of convenience goods is crucial to a more sustainable future. It relates also to the media portion of our class, and how media does affect people’s perceptions. This is directly using tactics used by soda companies to sell something that is opposes the message they wished to propagate.

Emakimono

Honors project for last semester:

 

 

Introduction

Emakimono (emaki) is the art of Japanese narrative hand scrolls. Emaki influenced many other artistic traditions, was the main mode of narrative storytelling in Japan for centuries, laid the thematic roots for the well known Ukiyo-e woodblock printing of the Edo period, and could be considered an ancestor of currently popular manga. What makes emaki special is the intertwined visual and written narrative that could be of potential infinite length. Within the history of emaki is an endless trove of fantastical stories, creatures, and landscapes. (Seckel) The cultural significance, unique composition, and masterful narrative techniques are what drew me to comprehend and apply the intricacies of this now antiquated art.

 

History

 

The idea to paint narrative art scrolls initially was imported in about the 7th century A. D. from China.(Okudaira) By this point in history, Chinese artisans had painted and carved continuous pictorial compositions on tomb walls for five centuries and proper scrolls for two centuries. (Grilli) Originally, this format was solely employed by the Chinese Buddhist monks to document the lives and deeds of great monks. The roots of this practice are traced to Indian Buddhists who started this practice in the first century. Later, during a period of free communication between China and Japan, Nara (646-794) and into the Early Heian (794-897), the Japanese were infatuated with all things Buddhist. The earliest surviving scroll from this time is the Sutra of Cause and Effect (E Inga-kyo), which is a copy of the Chinese Buddhist work Sutra of Cause and Effect of the Past and Present (Kako Genzai Inga-kyo). (Okudaira)

 

During the tenth through twelfth centuries emaki transitioned content to secular stories about the human condition. The Fujiwara clan ruled during this time by influence through wealth instead of military power, which created peace and prosperity throughout Japan. (Seckel) This enabled time to be devoted to the creation of art. The stories included not only famous samurai and court drama, but also fisherman and farmers who through circumstance exemplify the valiant nature of even the common man. This is unusual to consider since aristocrats created the scrolls at this time. Generally, there was not disdain for those low in the social hierarchy, but more a fascination with the freedoms and garrulous ways of the peasant. (Seckel)

 

The dark side of life was a favored topic also, for numerous emaki are about demons, monsters, and general scenes of warfare and destruction. The viewer is runs a gamut of human suffering from psychological to physical to the point beauty can be seen in it. The term to describe this major literary theme is mono no aware which “is the association of beauty and sorrow, the recognition that what is beautiful is also pathetic because it is inevitably transitory and doomed to disappear.” (Okudaira) This concept is not exclusive to emakimono, but a pervasive theme in most Japanese arts. The overall construction of the scroll furthers the mono no aware. Emaki are crafted from all fragile and biodegradable materials that are actually touched by the viewer, so for one to enjoy the work in its truest form the viewer must unwittingly accelerate the decay. Each scroll encapsulates the essence of a transitory world.

 

The two most famous pieces of emaki are The Tales of Genji and The Pillow Book. Both were created during the early stages of emaki’s maturation (between 966-1027) by female authors. (Okudaira) The Tales of Genji’s position in literary history is important but debated, for some tout is as the “first novel”. (Tyler) This is highly subjective and dependent which definition of novel is used. The semantics of historic title aside, there is little doubt to this epic masterpiece’s overall significance for insight into the culture and arts of the time. Interwoven into the fictional story is documentation of the artist’s contemporaries and mundane daily tasks. The same holds true for The Pillow Book, which is a collection of personal observations and diary entries of the artist Sei Shōnagon – a court lady for Empress Consort Teishi. (Okudaira) Writers and artists have referenced this work for centuries, the most recent being “This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn.” (Pillow Book)

 

Stories and illustrations increased in complexity during the Kamakura period (1185-1336), which is considered the peak of emakimono. The rise of a wealthy middle class in Japan caused a higher demand for luxury items. With this new market of patrons, whole establishments were developed to the creation of emaki. These establishments streamlined the process by specialization of each step for each contributor, from line work, kanji, calligraphy, and coloring, to allow for mastering in each. The majority of emaki is from this time period and exemplifies the art form.

Emakimono remained popular until the Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan, which is when more vogue and accessible art forms became available. The Ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints) were the new desire of the Japanese public and for eventual export to Europe. Ukiyo-e covered many of the same topics that the scrolls did, like daily life, epic grandeur, and beautiful tragedy, but in an easier to mass produce form. Emaki was still created during this time, however as a kitsch or homage to the past, as opposed to a serious art form. (Okudaira) By the time of its demise, emaki had a foothold in Japanese culture for almost a millennium, which solidifies its undeniable influence in the arts.

 

Materials

Emakimono are usually painted on paper, sometimes silks, and even rarer paper mounted on silk. It all depends on the artist and which materials they prefer. (Mason) In my project I decided to use paper, because it was the more common choice of old. According to Penelope Mason in History of Japanese Art “Emaki are between 8 and 20 inches (20 to 50) high and may be as long as 66 feet (20m). The individual sheets of paper vary in width from one scroll to another and are joined by a narrow overlap. Emaki papers were usually made either from kozo, the bark of the paper-mulberry tree, or ganpi, thin rice paper from the wickstroemia canescena. “(Mason)

 

To further understand these choices, I visited Timothy Barrett at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. He received the 2009 MacArthur Fellowship for his work in preserving traditional paper making techniques and also has authored two separate books about the topic of Japanese paper making.   After explaining my project to him, he recommended to use kozo and even provided me with a stack of handmade paper to use. They were separate sheets, as opposed to a long continuous roll that I could purchase at the local art store. He advised me to use rice paste to adhere the sheets together, for this was the traditional way to construct the scroll. Rice paste is a neutral ph, strong, clear drying adhesive, and is sometimes called “library paste”. Since it can spoil when bought prepackaged, I opted to make my own. I have included the recipe I used below in the application portion.

 

The complete physical construction of the scroll, starting from the outside in, is a piece of decorative silk or paper with a silk cord or ribbon to bind it all together. It is then followed by usually a title page, then the text and illustrations. Finally, there is a blank space for any further annotations by owners of the scroll. It is adhered to a spindle usually made of cedar or pine, which is used because of its natural bug resistance. (Seckel) It is stored in a special made box or wrapped in clothe. (See image below)

Composition

 

Emakimono provides unique challenges with visual composition, because of its infinite length but limited height. The two ways to lay the scroll out are mono scenic and continuous narrative. Mono scenic is where there is a block of alternating illustration then text, much like modern books. Even though this was a commonly utilized layout, Tales of Genji is composed as such, it did not interest me to use that form. It is simpler for the artist to paint the image followed by text, but it also doesn’t use the elongated scroll format to its full advantage. (Okudaira)

Continuous narrative is where one scene flows into the other, which creates if unrolled completely for the most part a congruent image. This style is more of what interested me, because I feel it applies the format to the full potential. With that being said, scrolls are rarely exclusively continuous or mono scenic. To tell the story effectively the author will layout the scroll in a manner that will regulate the rhythm and flow to their liking. (Seckel)

 

The text in continuous narratives is included in a variety of ways. The three major ways are flowing images with text in separate boxes, the text incorporated with the pictures as the scene unfolds, and the text continuous over or under the continuous image. Boxed text dispersed within the scroll is the most common because of its simplicity. The text being incorporated right into the image is generally only used to speed up the scrolling, or when the text is sparser than the illustration. The last technique of two parallels running together of illustration and text is really only used in more formal scrolls or ones with a lot of text. (Okudaira) I decided to mainly use the text in separate boxes, because I wished to keep the poem’s stanza together.

 

There are two predominant styles in emakimono, onna-e (feminine pictures) and otoko-e (masculine pictures). Onna-e is the formal style used by the aristocracy. What makes it distinctive is the built up layer of watercolor paints, non descriptive treatment of faces, highly static stylization, and the subject matter was usually (not exclusively) of the affluent melodrama. It is almost exclusively composed in the mono scenic style, and focused on overall aesthetic as opposed to plot. (Okudaira)

 

Otoko-e is the more informal style that monks, samurai, and eventually the common man use. It is defined by loose rapid brush strokes, less layering of colors (sometimes completely monochromatic) and high dynamics. The narrative subject matter could be anything, thought usually more lively and uninhibited than onna-e. Otoko-e is almost exclusively continuous narrative, and focused on plot overall as opposed to aesthetic.  (Okudaira) Onna-e and otoko-e are direct opposites in approach to creation of the scrolls, but both have an end product that is equally beautiful.

 

When creating a continuous composition the major elements the artist needs to think about are negative space, settings, and repetition. All three find their importance to create continuity, while allowing each scene to flow into the other. Negative space is crucial because the blank paper can be more applicable than filling it in with detail when trying to join scenes together. Also, it can give the characters a feeling of isolation or directs the viewer to focus on what is important at that moment in the story. (Seckel) Setting ties the whole work together, whether it is one scene or movement through a landscape. Repetition of the characters or settings helps tie the whole work together. The character repeated through the moving background is a technique called Hampuku-byōsha, meaning ”repetition pictures” (Okudaira). The technique of actions at varying times in the same scene to show the progression of events is called iji-dōzu, meaning “different time, same illustration.” Emaki are temporal in nature, so most of the compositional tools are ones in which the artist can regulate the flow of the story.

 

Perspective is also a tricky thing to deal with in the scroll format. The solution is furinuki-yatai (blown away roof).  In some scenes, the roof would literally be removed to allow the viewer to spy what is going on inside, but that is not exclusively furinuki-yatai. Overall, it is where everything is from a bird’s eye view, usually at a diagonal direction. Implied diagonal lines are used quite frequently to keep the viewer scrolling or to slow them down. This is dependent on which way the diagonal is directed. Why furinuki-yatai is considered the optimal vantage point is because all characters could be included without being obstructed by another, as which would happen in standard western linear perspective. (Seckel) This is also believed to give the viewer a heightened sense of involvement and awareness, because they are able to see all that is going on but are removed from it. (Okudaira)

Proportions are not dependent on the actual naturalistic view of them, but how important they are to be noticed in the story at that time. From my examination of many different scroll examples, there are countless instances of the main hero fluctuating from a dwarf to a giant, just because of their narrative importance at the time. It is common also for other elements, like plants or trees, to be enlarged depending on their symbolic meaning. (Grilli)

 

Application

 

After spending most of the semester researching and studying scrolls to gain understanding of this format, I ventured to create my own. I decided to illustrate the Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll. I am a fan of Carroll, and enjoy the nonsense of this particular poem. More pertinent though, is I thought the subtle commentary on Imperialism would bring this scroll together conceptually. It is about the time Western Imperialism broke down the walls of Japanese isolationism (Edo period) that the scrolls dissipated in popularity. It may not be a direct correlation, but the subtle change in artistic tastes could be the indication of an ideological shift in the Japanese culture. Instead of the laborious scroll, people wished to purchase the relatively quick to produce and consume Ukiyo-e.

 

I attempted to embrace the traditional methods as best I could, while adapting them to comfort of the Western viewer. The major aspect I changed is the scroll is backwards, better suiting traditional English reading habits.  As stated before, I obtained the paper of Timothy Barrett, and made my own glue. Below is the recipe I used:

“WHEAT- OR RICE-STARCH PASTE

1 level teaspoon deglutinated rice or wheat flour 1/8 cup distilled water, at room temperature

1. Mix enough distilled water with the flour to form a mixture that has the consistency of heavy cream.

2. Boil the remaining water and add it to the mixture, stirring constantly.

3. Heat the mixture, in the top of a double boiler, stirring constantly until the mixture clears and thickens.

4. After the paste has cleared, thickened, and cooled, apply the paste in a thin coat

5.  Immediately after application, apply pressure or a weight protected by a slip sheet until dry, usually between 30 and 40 minutes.” (Saityk)

 

I first sketched out the poem with a composition on a continuous roll of old dot matrix printer paper. I could not find any examples of the old artists creating a sketch first, but since I am not practiced at this art I needed to do so. After making adjustments, I started on the scroll itself. I did it section by section, increasing and decreasing the amount I was working on at a time to ensure that everything flowed together smoothly. I moved, added, and eliminated portions of the illustration as I saw fit to ensure the composition flowed and fit on the paper I had available. I first sketched lightly with vine charcoal the rough positions I wished the illustrations to be in. I then inked it in with a traditional Sumi-e brush and ink created from ink stones. Since I was not a practiced calligrapher, for the text I used a fine tip brush marker.

After the first inking dried, I colored the piece with watercolors. I was not going to do color at first, but after seeing examples of old scrolls I realized the bright colors were one of the more appealing factors of them. After that dried, I re-inked the lines that were lost under the watercolors with a brush tip marker. The whole painting process that I followed is how the artists traditionally did it, with only adaptations of using modern made materials.

 

Conclusion

Emakimono is a wonderful format that any narrative artist would enjoy working. With its long history, there are countless different techniques and nuances that were developed to help abstractly convey the story to the viewer. It may be an antiquated art right now, but there are many possibilities that have yet to be explored with the format. Hopefully, the future for emaki is bright as its colors and enduring as its stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Grilli, Elise. Japanese Picture Scrolls. London: Elek.

 

Mason, Penelope. “Emakimono and Paper Making.” Hungry Ghosts. Saint Xavier University. 5 May 2011. <http://web.sxu.edu/mdr1/studentwork/hungry_ghosts/pages/emaki.html>.

 

Okudaira, Hideo. Narrative Picture Scrolls. Tokyo:Shibundo,1973.

 

“The Pillow Book.” Wikipedia. 25 Apr. 2011. Wikipedia. 5 May 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pillow_Book&gt;

 

Seckel, Dietrich. Emakimono The Art of the Japanese Painted Hand-Scrolls. London: Cape, 1959.

 

Saitzyk, Steven. “Hinging.” True Art. 14 Jun. 2009. 5 May 2011. <http://www.trueart.info/hinging.htm>.

 

Tyler, Royall. The Tale of Genji. New York. Penguin Classics. pp. i-ii & xii.

 

Abecedary

Here is my complete final project for my Composition II class. Enjoy!

 

One of my significant memories of childhood is when I first attempted to write. I drew loops of varied sizes; some I added dots to, while others I crossed. They were words to me, as the sun was a simple circle with a smiley face, or a house was a large box with a triangle. Pages filled with epic tales of childhood were encoded as such, and I am sure those were my finest masterpieces. Perhaps I did not completely understand “proper writing” then, but I contend that it is not far from reality. Words are simply a series of particularly arranged lines and dots assigned to abstract ideas by the viewer – just like drawings or paintings are lines and dabs of color that resemble something meaningful in life. This reality was obvious when I was young, but age and education caused the essential link between the two to falter. This begs the question of how visual and written communications developed and what is there correlation? How does technology shape the history of writing and what is its future?

 

As stated, visual art is composed of color dabs and values to impress a scene on the viewer. Art has several purposes including, but not exclusively, recording the real world or bringing to reality the intangibles, such as emotions or ideas. The artist wishes to convey some idea with each piece they create. Along with the artist’s intent, the viewer will assign meaning to each work dependent on their life experiences. “The subjective nature of perception explains why a work of art may mean different things to people and how it is that we may return to a favorite work again and again, noticing new aspects of it each time.” (Getlein, 14) In general, education is not required to comprehend a visual work of art, just a functioning photoreceptor. The creation of art, the drive to document and understand the world around us, is an ancient primal drive. In Africa, Australia, and Southern Europe, the oldest known human drawings date back about 40,000 years. (Vajda)

 

One of these ancient signs of human creativity is the Chauvet cave, which dates from 30,000 B.C.E, in Southern France. Named after the spelunker who discovered it, Jean-Marie Chauvet, the paintings were made by ancient unknown artists by blowing yellow and red ochre pigments through a reed. The paintings depict all sorts of animals, from lions to rhinos to bears. (Getlein, 4-5) The age of these cave paintings demonstrates how hardwired the comprehension of colors and forms is in the human evolutionary development. Humans have seemingly always attempted to sort and understand our world through increasingly ingenuitive and abstract means.

 

A major abstraction humans created are words, which are stylized ideograms. This mean the word apple does not look anything like an apple. It takes basic education and socialization to read, write, and comprehend a formal language. Words can create in the mind’s eye stories, characters, landscapes, ideas, and theories, while representing the somatic version of human communication. Where did writing come from and what is there history? It actually evolved from the original human expression of drawing, as will be explained later. To talk about written communication’s history, one must look to the formats that it stored it, books. A brief explanation from William Germano:

“In the sense of having been around a long time, the book has a long story to tell, one           that might be organized around four epochal events, at least in the West. In the    beginning was the invention of writing and its appearance on various materials. The      second was the development during the first years of the Christian era of the codex– the thing with pages and a cover–first as a supplement and eventually as a replacement for the older technology of the scroll. The third was what we think of as   the Gutenberg moment, the European deployment of movable type, in the 15th            century. And the fourth is, of course, the digital revolution in the middle of which we find     ourselves today.”(Germano).

 

To further extrapolate on Germano’s synopsis, written communication has a five thousand year history, with the first two thirds of it lost to time.(Dahl, pg 7) However, some evidence remains to give a slight picture to the evolution of writing. Pictograms, a simple picture that depicts exactly what it is, were a major from of pre-writing communication. Prevalent in Ancient Sumeria (Ancient Mesopotamia), it seemed to come out of a necessity to keep track of commerce and trade, like counts of items and what was being stored in a container.(Vajda) Eventually, pictograms abstracted and simplified considerably until they formed the first writing: cuneiform. Meaning wedge writing, these symbols were created by impressing a stylus, or blunted reed, into the clay tablet. (Vajda) This is believed to develop for the sake of speed and ease, since clay is difficult to draw curved lines in. (Anceint Mesopotamia)

 

After the Sumerians developed the tablet and cuneiform, the Egyptians furthered writing technology in about 2400 B.C.E. with papyrus scrolls. These are long sheets of material made from strips of dried papyrus glued together, first side by side slightly overlapping. To reinforce this, another layer is put crosswise, moistened, and systematically pounded until it congealed into one cohesive piece. It is put in the sun to dry again and sized – treating the paper surface to change absorbency – until glossy. This creates a flexible fiber sheet which is perfect for writing.

Scribes traditionally wrote on the side with the papyrus strips running horizontally, exclusively in scroll format, and in a simple, at least compared to complex hieroglyphs, script. Called hieratic, meaning priestly, this writing form is derived from hieroglyphs. Later an even simpler writing form developed called demotic meaning “popular.”(Dahl, pg 7-9). This evolution is similar to the Sumerian transition from pictograms to cuneiform, further asserting that writing is derived from more visual forms of communication.

 

Tablets and scrolls were used until the Roman’s developed codices in the first century. A codex is how books are now understood, with paper bound together in sheets of a certain size and a cover to protect the pages. The Bible was the first major writing to be put into codex form, which solidified this format in history for over two thousand years. Since the first Roman codex, traditional book creation evolved technologically, but a book from then or now still looks like a book.

The first codices were handwritten by scribes and monks, and then eventually printed by using wood/stone carvings. Both took painstaking work, which made books rare and limited in accessibility. The printing press with moveable type revolutionized this process. China actually invented this technology in the 11th century, three centuries before Johann Gutenberg.  According to Dahl, “The fact that this method did not attain extensive use in China is due to the large number of characters used by the Chinese; an ordinary book required 4-5,000 different types.” (Dahl, p 84) The Romantic languages limited character sets worked seamlessly with the idea of interchangeable but reusable type. The printing press, along with economic factors, eased knowledge accessibility and contributed to the boom of innovation in the Renaissance. (Annenberg)

 

Now we are in the digital revolution. Quickly, the Portable Document Format, PDF, combined with computers or e-readers have become the norm for information exchange. Jeff Jarvis attests with new technology books in comparison “are expensive to produce. They depend on scarce shelf space. They depend on blockbuster economics. They can’t afford to serve the real mass of niches. They are subject to gatekeepers’ whims. They aren’t search-able. They aren’t linkable. They have no meta data. They carry no conversation. They are thrown out when there’s no space for them anymore. Print is where words go to die.” (Jarvis) All of his arguments are valid, however not a very balanced view of the total picture. The merits with new formats compared to print books are numerous, but what about the reliability and archive ability of books? As Gary Frost summarizes both sides of the argument in his essay A Retrospective of the Future of the Book,

“The print book carries with it layers of physical evidence, overt content and    bibliographic codes that persistently reveal the source and intent of its production.    Such features of self-authentication, confirmed with ease of re-readings across time   and cultures, give the material book its special role in transmission. But print books          resist indexing and have been compiled into libraries only with great effort or with the       help of on-line cataloging and finding aids.

“By contrast the screen book is self-indexing because the encoding or            production process that renders books to the screen also enables keyword search          routines. This attribute is really amazing. It is as if printing ink on paper inherently            tabulated the letters and remembered them. However, the effervescent screen books   resist authentication. Screen books, like touch screen voting, remain vulnerable and un-trusted with ease of unmonitored deletions or revisions and uncertain provenance.             And expectations are very different with screen-based research. The content is served         quickly while the reader is induced to consume quickly as well.” (Frost)

Even with the quality of it being self authenticating, which may keep print alive, many of the old processes to create a print book are being lost to new technology in that field.  So what is the future of traditional book creation? Is it doomed to antiquity with scrolls and stone tablets? I – for one – get a wistful and mystical feeling whenever I open the musty pages of an old handcrafted book. In the constant barrage of a high speed society, they are the roots that link us to our history, making the ever faster world seem a little stable and grounded. New editions may come out, but that original book will only yellow with age.

 

There are places that attempt to preserve the books heritage, while bringing new life and purpose to traditional creation process. One of these places is the University of Iowa Center of the Book. Here the history of the book is preserved, while new innovations with traditional techniques are used to create unique works of book art.

 

This could seem somewhat controversial; books are to be books. The definition of book is “A set of written, printed, or blank pages fastened along one side and encased between protective covers.” (7)  However, if one thinks of a book as a vessel for knowledge, as opposed to the traditional definition, the art book is a natural progression. Not only do they contain beautiful works of meaningful art, they are also carrying the knowledge forward of how to handcraft a book. Furthermore, the beauty of these delightful creations will quickly sway even the harshest critic.

 

They can have eccentric cover shapes, accordion pages with cut outs, no pages at all, bold to subdued colors, and really anything as long as it utilizes some book making techniques. A few practitioners flat out defy any definition this medium, citing it will the limit the possibilities of inspiration, and most struggle to put it in words. Janice Braun states it simply “I have given this a great deal of consideration and I think that any definition is problematic. I am only able to answer the question with more difficult questions: What is a book? What is art (and/or what is an artist)?” (Braun)

 

By bringing books into the art realm, information not only has been freed from books, but books are unburdened from the pack of formal information. Book artists fulfill the need to preserve obsolete technologies, such as typesetting and hand pulling paper. This preservation is important for conservation and restoration of historical documents and to fully understand how human communication technology has developed through the centuries. After touring the Center for the Book’s facilities in March 2011 and seeing all of this, I was inspired to create my own book art. (see Ill. 5 & )

 

The title of this tiny work is A Letter is worth a Thousand Pictures. Conceptually, I wanted to create an art book with written and visual elements to exemplify my youthful perceptions described in the introduction. I created an accordion style binding of an abecedary. I chose standard cardboard stencils about an inch and half square, because they look like children’s letter blocks. Also, there is the fact a stencil’s normal function is to create words, so it seemed fitting to appropriate them as a surface for each page. I illustrated on each the first few items that came to my head that began with each letter. I kept the illustrations simple and stylized, to further the idea of youthful perceptions. I mounted all of these on distressed bright pink polka dotted paper. As a child, one of my favorite dresses was made of this pattern, and a distressed version of this seemed pertinent to how I perceive my youth now through the goggles of age.

 

No one can predict the future of the written word, since – as with any human innovation – it is always changing. Even though the technology has evolved through the ages the purpose has stayed the same: to understand our world and preserve that knowledge. Whether it be cave paintings or highly sophisticated tablet computers, they all are fundamentally the same. While embracing the unknown future, we must also keep our feet grounded in the past. This is the only way we may grow as a species, otherwise the tides of time will wash us away.

Bibliography

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“Book”. The Free Dictionary. Farlex. 2011. 10 May, 2011.           <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/book>.

Braun, Janice. “Re: Definition of the Artists Book (YES, again).” The Book Arts Web. The    Book Arts Web, 6 Aug 2010. Web. 8 Feb 2011.

Dahl, Svend. History of the book. New York: Scarecrow Press, 1958.

Frost, Gary. “A Retrospective of the Future of the Book”. Futureofthebook.com. Ed. Gary     Frost. 2000-2008. 10 May, 2011.

<http://futureofthebook.com/print-book-and-screen-book-and-the-other/>

Germano, William. “What Are Books Good For?.” Chronicle of Higher Education. B6.        Chronicle of Higher Education, 2010. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 9 Feb. 2011.

Getlein, Mark. Living with Art. New York:McGraw-Hill, 2009.

Jarvis, Jeff. “The book is dead. Long live the book.”. BuzzMachine. Ed. Jeff Jarvis. 19 May,             2006. 10 May, 2011.

<http://www.buzzmachine.com/2006/05/19/the-book-is-dead-long-live-the-book>.

Pike, William. “World’s Oldest Bible Hits Cyberspace.” Encyclopedia Britannica Blog. 14 July,        2009. Encyclopedia Britannica. 10 May, 2011.

“Renaissance: Printing and Thinking.” Renaissance:Printing and Thinking. Annenberg                      Foundation. 10 May, 2011. <http://www.learner.org/interactives/renaissance/printing.html>.

“The Significance of the Cave”. The Cave of Chauvet-pont-d’Arc. Republic of France Cultural             Communication. 10 May, 2011.       <http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/chauvet/en/index.html&gt;.

Vajda, Edward. “The invention of writing.” Linguistics 201: The Invention of Writing. Edward             Vajda. Western Washington University. 10 May, 2011.             <http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/ling201/test4materials/Writing2.htm>.

Wikipedia. “File:P. Oxy. XXII 2331.jpg”. Wikimedia Commons. 16 Jan, 2011. 10 May, 2011.             <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:P._Oxy._XXII_2331.jpg&gt;.